President Joe Biden has certainly lost a few steps from his heady days in the Senate and vice presidency, when he could riff extemporaneously with the best of them.
And that’s understandable. He’s 80.
But what occurred at his last press conference was unusual to say the least.
During a joint press conference with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Wednesday, Biden allegedly held a cheat sheet with the name and photo of a reporter he was to call on — along with the text of a question.
When he called on Los Angeles Times reporter Courtney Subramanian, she said, “Your top economic priority has been to build U.S. domestic manufacturing in competition with China, but your rules against expanding chip manufacturing in China is hurting South Korean companies that rely heavily on Beijing.”
In a striking coincidence, the text written on Biden’s cheat sheet which appeared to feature a picture of Subramanian — along with phonetics on how to pronounce her name — said: “How are YOU squaring YOUR domestic priorities — like reshoring semiconductors manufacturing — with alliance-based foreign policy?”
The unusual similarity set social media afire with conspiracy theories. A day later, Hillary Manning, vice president of communications for the Los Angeles Times, told Fox News Digital: “Our reporter did not submit any questions in advance of the Q&A with President Biden. Courtney Subramanian covers the White House for the Los Angeles Times. As such, she is in regular contact with the White House press office seeking information for her reporting. You would have to ask the White House who prepared the document for the president and why they included that question.”
But hang on. While it could certainly be possible that a friendly newspaper like the L.A. Times might let the White House know what questions its reporter was going to ask the president, it didn’t necessarily happen that way.
When I covered the White House for more than a decade, I got to know a lot of the press and communication staffers in the White House. And one, Dana Perino, who served as press secretary for George W. Bush, once told me how her crew pre-gamed a presser.
First, they pretty much knew who they were calling on, and in what order: A question for the Associated Press, one for Reuters, maybe one to Bloomberg or The New York Times or The Washington Post. Maybe they’d go to then-NBC News’ resident gadfly David Gregory or another talking head from the networks. It bounced around to keep everyone happy.
One time Perino detailed a particular presser that they’d prepped for, trying to guess the questions — maybe even the phraseology — that Bush would face. And in that one, they had correctly predicted seven of the 11 questions.
Let’s be honest: It isn’t that hard to predict what questions reporters are going to ask. Biden and the liberal media? Please. And bring in the South Korean president with a friendly liberal media, you might expect a question about chip manufacturing and competition with China, not, say, a question about China invading Taiwan.
That’s just what the Biden White House said. Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday it was “entirely normal” for Biden to hold a cheat sheet that might contain the answer to an expected question.
“It is entirely normal for a president to be briefed on reporters who will be asking questions at a press conference and issues that we expect they might ask about,” Jean-Pierre told reporters. “It is not surprising that yesterday we would anticipate questions that he did receive — right? — on the visit with the South Korean president” on Wednesday.
“We do not have specific questions in advance, that’s not something that we do,” Jean-Pierre added.
But back in February 2021, just two weeks into Biden’s term, reports emerged that his press office had asked journalists to send questions in advance, drawing criticism from some reporters.
One White House correspondent was miffed, telling The Daily Beast: “The press can’t really do its job in the briefing room if the White House is picking and choosing the questions they want. That’s not really a free press at all.”
Then there’s the fact that the two queries were so similar — that the card for the first reporter called on contained nearly the identical question the White House comms team had prepped. That does seem to stretch credulity.
It’s not impossible, but it seems odd. Still, a comms team worth its salt only had to come up with the topics for two questions from U.S. journalists — Biden doesn’t take more than two — so maybe it wasn’t that hard, and maybe our reporters are just that predictable.
But veteran White House journalist Jon Decker of Gray Television wanted just a bit more info from Jean-Pierre in Thursday’s briefing.
“Is it your contention, Karine, that the question that was on the so-called cheat sheet was not similar to the question that was asked?” Decker shouted. “It’s a very reasonable question.”
“Could you wait your turn?” Jean-Pierre said. He did; she never called on him.
Bush-era press secretary Ari Fleischer, who preceded Perino and held the job from 2001 to 2003, tweeted, “The LA Times needs to investigate this. No WH reporter would ever tell me what question they intended to ask POTUS. It would be unethical – not to mention soft – to do so. The Times and this reporter have explaining to do.”
The LA Times needs to investigate this.
No WH reporter would ever tell me what question they intended to ask POTUS. It would be unethical – not to mention soft – to do so.
The Times and this reporter have explaining to do. https://t.co/7LGyl04KCz
— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) April 26, 2023
It’s not the first time Biden has been caught with a cheat sheet (dude, just shield that stuff from the cameras, huh?!) In 2022, Biden used a sheet that instructed him how to answer “tough Putin” questions after Biden had said “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
One card said: “If you weren’t advocating for regime change, what did you mean? Can you clarify?”
The card included an answer: “I was expressing the moral outrage I felt towards the actions of this man,” and “I was not articulating a change in policy.”
Another part of the card, which was only partly visible to photographers (dude!), included verbiage on how to answer the question: “Is this now threatening to splinter unity with your NATO allies?”
“No,” the answer card said. “NATO has never been more united.”
Another cheat sheet from June 2022 was even more embarrassing.
Thanks to a Getty image of the incident, readers could see that the text read as follows:
Offshore Wind Drop-By Sequence of Events
YOU enter the Roosevelt Room and say hello to participants
YOU take YOUR seat
YOU give brief comments (Minutes)
YOU ask Liz Shuler AFL-CIO President a question
Note: Liz is joining virtually
YOU thank participants
Oof. That’s embarrassing.
In reaction to that photo, Greg Price, a conservative digital strategist, sarcastically remarked, “Joe Biden isn’t senile, guys. His handlers just have to give him step by step directions for every single thing that he does.”
Joe Biden isn’t senile, guys. His handlers just have to give him step by step directions for every single thing that he does.
h/t @KateHydeNY pic.twitter.com/JaKZMLv64V
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) June 23, 2022
So yeah, maybe the White House just perfectly predicted the first question in a press conference by Biden, who hadn’t held one in months and months. Or maybe the liberal L.A. Times let the White House know in advance.
But either way, the fact that our president needs cheat sheets to answer questions is pretty damn embarrassing.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
Joseph Curl has covered politics for 35 years, including 12 years as White House correspondent for a national newspaper. He was also the a.m. editor of the Drudge Report for four years. Send tips to [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @josephcurl.